Cats escape Starkville with 'ugly win'

It was far from a basketball work of art, but Kentucky got what it ultimately had to have on Saturday at Mississippi State: a win.

If a segment of the college basketball world lives to over-analyze Kentucky, as UK coach John Calipari suggested earlier this week, the Wildcats probably didn't pick up any style points with Saturday's 69-59 win at Mississippi State.

As freshman forward Julius Randle simply put it: "It was ugly. Really ugly. Ugly, ugly game."

Kentucky improved to 18-5 overall and 8-2 in SEC play, but it did not come in smooth fashion. The No. 18 Wildcats never got in sync offensively, shooting 45 percent from the field against an MSU squad with only seven healthy scholarship players and going 3-for-18 from beyond the arc.

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"They were 3-1 in this building, they had Florida down in the second half," Calipari said of the Bulldogs. "They're good in this building. I expected it. But I didn't expect us to play so poorly. We weren't a very good team today."

Calipari went to his bench early and often in this one. Reserve point guard Jarrod Polson played a season-high 30 minutes, while reserve wing Jon Hood notched a season-high 13 minutes of action. They shot a combined 2-for-10, but supplied energy that helped UK turn a four-point deficit midway through the first half into a 32-23 lead at the break.

"Those two played," Calipari said. "What did they add to the game? Did they add a skillset or size or athleticism? No. They just played hard. Some of these guys have this thought they don't have to compete because they haven't had to their whole life, they've always been bigger and stronger. Well, OK, when the other team's playing hard, you're losing. That's basically what it looked like today."

The Cats led by no more than 12 points in the second half, thanks in large part to their familiar defensive lapses that allowed MSU to shoot 50 percent (11 of 22) in the half after shooting 28 percent (7 of 25) before the break.

Kentucky ultimately had too much size and depth for Mississippi State (13-10, 3-7 SEC) to overcome. Randle had a team-high 16 points and grabbed seven rebounds from his power forward spot. Centers Dakari Johnson and Willie Cauley-Stein combined for 17 points on 7-for-7 shooting and pulled down 10 rebounds. The Cats owned a 38-33 advantage on the glass.

James Young added 11 points for UK, while Aaron Harrison chipped in with nine points, six rebounds and six assists.

The Bulldogs got 12 points from a trio of players: Taylor Luczak, Rodney Hood and Craig Sword. Roquez Johnson added 10 for MSU.

The two teams combined to go 4-for-26 from 3-point range.


• Kentucky leads the all-time series with MSU 91-20, including a 33-12 mark in Starkville.

• It marked the fifth time this season that Aaron Harrison has led the Cats in assists.

• Julius Randle has scored in double figures 20 times this season.

• The Cats return to action Wednesday at Auburn in an 8 p.m. ET tip on SEC TV.

Jeff Drummond has covered University of Kentucky sports for newspapers, magazines and online publications since 1988 and for FOX Sports since 2012. A Richmond, Ky., native, he currently resides in Lexington.

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